Most heartbreaking single article you've ever read online?


#1

What’s the most heartbreaking single article you’ve ever read online?

This is a question I asked on Twitter a few years ago. I believe @telefrog has referred to this type of thing as “depression porn” in the past. He ain’t wrong. Anyway, I got a bunch of responses, but hands down the winner was this article. I mean it really wasn’t even close in the final analysis. This was the one.

I don’t recommend reading it, but if you do – particularly if you have children – be prepared. I am not kidding. It won a pulitzer and I can see why, because it will cut a hole all the way through you.

I basically wrote an entire blog post about the themes this article explores, defining what it means to be human through the lens of a very particular tragedy:

Ed Hickling believes he knows why. Hickling is a clinical psychologist from Albany, N.Y., who has studied the effects of fatal auto accidents on the drivers who survive them. He says these people are often judged with disproportionate harshness by the public, even when it was clearly an accident, and even when it was indisputably not their fault.

Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. “We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.”

So much about this article stays with me over the years.

Then there is the Chattanooga, Tenn., business executive who must live with this: His motion-detector car alarm went off, three separate times, out there in the broiling sun. But when he looked out, he couldn’t see anyone tampering with the car. So he remotely deactivated the alarm and went calmly back to work.

I, honest to God, think about this guy every month since I read that article. Three times. You must live with that. Three times… whatever emotional burdens you think you may have, they ain’t shit compared to what this guy carries around every day for the rest of his life.

How do you ever come back from that? I don’t think you do.


#2

One of the contributors to the Making Light blog shared a writeup of the tragic story about a devastating 1908 Ohio school fire. At least the disaster led to greater fire safety in the future.

http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/012875.html


#3

Yeah, that is a rough thing to read. I remember when it came out and it floored me.

Every time this happens - someone leaving their kid in the car to die - there’s a flurry of blame that goes around on social media and the news, and it’s always the same stuff. “I’d never let that happen.” “It’s not possible to just ‘forget’ your child.” etc. Then someone will bring up this article and you can see the change in responses as people learn how wrong they are on this subject. It’s an amazingly informative and emotional article.


#4

I’ve recently switched to Waze as a navigation app, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it has an option, enabled by default, that prompts you with a “Check for your child!” at the end of every trip. My kids are 7 ½ and 4 ½ so forgetting them by accident is no longer a real risk (since they could let themselves out if need be), but I have still left it enabled… just in case.


#5

Scary for me as I drop off my daughter every day at daycare. My older daughter I didn’t have a problem as she was so active and vocal throughout the ride, but my younger daughter can be dead quiet, looking out the window, to the point it startles me when she says something - ‘airplane dada’ when she sees an airplane.

Brings me back to my rant in the other thread about how cars are basically evil - they ruin our cities and neighborhoods, turn us into assholes, and maybe I can add they make us into zombies locking our kids in them. Seriously there have been actual psychological studies about it, how we get angry at a cyclist that maybe doesn’t even delay us for longer than two literal seconds. This when in person, we’re more than happy to let someone delay us like that, and often say “excuse me” or “sorry” even though they caused the delay. Also one of the reasons toddlers and babies sleep so well in cars is the sound isolation and gentle rhythm is very similar to the womb. Anyway writing this paragraph has distracted me from thinking too deeply about the original post and article.


#6

I don’t know that I’m ready to read that just yet.


#7

Every WaPo article I read these days breaks my heart in new ways.


#8

I didn’t read this first online but in print while riding an exercycle.

At the time, I found it sad and interesting. Now that I have a 19-month-old daughter, it’s borderline unreadable.


#9

Oh that’s a good one. Adding it to my list. One paragraph really struck me

One of the most despicable religious fallacies is that suffering is ennobling — that it is a step on the path to some kind of enlightenment or salvation. Isabel’s suffering and death did nothing for her, or us, or the world. We learned no lessons worth learning; we acquired no experience that could benefit anyone. And Isabel most certainly did not earn ascension to a better place, as there was no place better for her than at home with her family. Without Isabel, Teri and I were left with oceans of love we could no longer dispense; we found ourselves with an excess of time that we used to devote to her; we had to live in a void that could be filled only by Isabel. Her indelible absence is now an organ in our bodies, whose sole function is a continuous secretion of sorrow.

I am ashamed to say that I am a bit of a collector of depression porn. I’m not sure why; I think it’s because I feel like I don’t have much control over my feelings any more. When I choose to read these, for a brief moment I got to control how I felt.

But there’s another reason we share tragic stories.

Sharing this tragic, horrible, private thing that happened to these poor people is how we cope. Watching this play out in public, among your peers, among other fellow human beings, is what it takes to for all of us to survive and move on. We’re here in this courtroom together because we need to be here. It’s part of the ride.

I’ve heard and seen things in that courtroom I think I will remember for the rest of my life. It’s been difficult to deal with, though I am sure it is the tiniest reflected fraction of what you and your family went through. I am so, so sorry this happened to you. But I want to thank you for sharing it with me, because I now know that I am to blame. We’re all to blame.

That’s what makes us human.

I do not miss that trial at all, but I still think about it a lot. Bearing witness to the tragic, the heroic, the mundane. It’s all part of our shared collective experience.


#10

Wumpus, related to these articles, I have wandered down the path of viewing gore photos/videos a few times in the past. And almost every time, I come away saddened, depressed, and with a mindset that nothing matters, humanity is its own biggest adversary.

I think on occasion we need to feel that, but I can’t explain why. We go about our lives trying to remain happy, without worry, and without needing to see the underbelly of suffering that is all around us, just not usually seen. Maybe we just need to remind ourselves of the horrible parts that could happen? Perhaps it’s only to try to tell ourselves that life is okay, it could always be worse?

I’m not sure I want to dip into these links today, but I will bookmark them for a time when I do.


#11

I remember finding rotten.com in 1998 or whatever and that was about all I ever needed of that for one lifetime … I am definitely not seeking out gore. I actually met the guy who set up rotten.com a while ago and he said he got death threats, and had to keep his association with it very private.

That’s definitely part of it. No matter how bad your shit may feel at any given time, rest assured someone has it way way worse than you do. Perspective.


#12

Easiest mute-bait thread ever.


#13

Since I haven’t read anything linked in this thread yet, I’ll just post the one that first popped into my head when I read the thread title. This was linked in another thread here on Qt3 a few months ago, and it stuck with me. There is also an audio version on there that I played for my girlfriend, which brought her to tears:


#14

Someone linked that one a while back. Such a sad story, and told by someone who came to the slow realization of it over his life. It was a powerful and affecting tale for sure.


#15

I’m reading a depressing story about Japan’s demographic collapse this morning.


#16

It’s time for some “just add water” depression, you guys.

https://web.archive.org/web/20120523102009/http://www.otherhand.org/home-page/search-and-rescue/the-hunt-for-the-death-valley-germans/

I believe there are sometimes situations in which individuals can end up finding themselves in great peril without making grossly bad decisions. Fortunately it doesn’t happen often, but I think it does happen. In the case of the Germans, it involves a series of honest mistakes that I myself could have made and ended up in a similar situation. But there is one piece of information that I, and many reading this would have, that Egbert didn’t. And that piece of information probably would have changed the outcome.

They brought a four year old with them. This story haunts me, and has for years.


#21

So pardon the self-pimpage, but perhaps it is on topic. I wrote this short piece a couple of years ago about my son’s death. Writing about tragedy can be cathartic.


#22

Dude, that was terrible, way, waaay more information than any sane human would ever need. This shit makes Moby Dick look like a short story, ffs.

And it was written so clinically it wasn’t remotely “heart breaking.”


#23

I found it haunting. Imagining what it was like for those Germans and their 4 year old kid, out there, losing hope.


#24

I came. I saw. I muted. Just now. But yeah.